It’s the time of the year in work when annual staff reports are making the rounds, so I wasn’t surprised when mine dropped into my inbox this morning. Except, it wasn’t mine – my boss had made the simple, but sometimes catastrophic error of sending the wrong email attachment. What he’d in fact sent me was somebody else’s: My opposite number in another office. As soon as I opened the attachment, I realised the mistake, so I did the honourable thing: I closed it, deleted and sent a reply to my boss, pointing out his mistake.
Did I consider scrolling down and digging the dirt on my arch rival? Did I think about saving the damning evidence for use at an opportune time? Of course I did! It’s only human nature, but after about three seconds of soul-searching, my conscience simply wouldn’t let me and – moral integrity intact – I chose the pathway of righteousness.
I only mention it because of something that cropped up recently inworld. A few of us were knocking around in the pub, doing nothing much in particular, when somebody suggested a game of ‘Truth or Dare’ – always a fun activity amongst the right gang of people. A few moments into the game the following ‘Truth’ question was posed:
[15:50] Truthful Resident: ok heres a tricky question : if you had the ability to read everyones personal IM’s in Sl. would you admit it or keep quiet ?
Interesting question, don’t you think? And one that led to some interesting answers. The general consensus of opinion was that almost all of us present would have few qualms about using such an ability to spy on those around us, but that not one of us – without exception – would ever admit to possessing such a gift. we even went as far to say that we would use our ability for nefarious reasons, given the chance, and yes – although I’m loathe to admit it – I was as bad as the rest of our little crowd in that respect. Which, as you would surmise from the opening paragraphs of this post, I would consider to be unacceptable behaviour in RL.
The simple fact is that there are many things we would happily do, say or support in SL that we simply wouldn’t entertain in the real world. There are activities in which we might participate inworld, but publicly denounce in an RL context, and many of us would find ourselves very much on the wrong side of the moral tracks if our virtual behaviour was replicated in our everyday lives.
Second Life, whilst it can be a very liberating environment, also blurs the lines of behaviour and morality – the virtual world is far more permissive, accepting and tolerant than the real world. I’m not saying that this is wrong – far from it – but there is a danger that our strongly held beliefs and principles can become confused, misled or even completely altered, once we enter our alternative reality. There are a variety of reasons that this can happen, all of which contribute to the overall picture:
- When we login, we do so on the understanding that we are taking part in something that is not ‘real’. The fact that SL is built around real people with emotions, feelings and standards becomes secondary to the notion that our inworld experience is somehow distant and removed from reality. To a certain degree, it is fake, and with that belief the consequences of misbehaviour are trivialised, even ignored.
- We tend to believe that SL is an ‘elsewhere’ place – a foreign country, or a different planet where rules don’t really exist. Anything is permissible, and there are no consequences tied to our actions. It is controlled anarchy.
- SL encourages a ‘tour bus’ mentality – what happens inworld, stays inworld. Again, with no consequences arising from our activities, we feel free to do whatever we want – after all, we can just log out and nobody will know what we’ve been up to.
- We tend to adopt a ‘victimless crime’ approach to inworld shenanigans: it’s just pixels, it’s only virtual reality, it’s just a bit of fun. Nobody gets hurt and nobody is a victim.
- We are anonymous in SL – nobody knows who we are, and we may as well be invisible in terms of accountability.
- SL distances us from our actions. We become an observer, rather than perpetrator, protagonist or participator – we don’t necessarily equate what we are watching unfold on the screen in any way with ourselves… we remain detached, aloof and disconnected.
- SL builds an artificial barrier, obscuring who we really are and allowing us to be someone else. This is similar to the way in which modes of communication can alter the message we give – for example, we find it infinitely easier to write an assertive, strongly-worded letter of complaint, than we do to complain to a ‘real’ person on the phone or face-to-face. SL is no different, it is however, much broader in its scope.
With all of these factors to contend with, it’s not surprising that our moral values may change dramatically on the click of a mouse key, but let’s not forget them entirely, or we may find that one day, it all goes horribly wrong!
All the kids stand laughin’ they never had such fun
Then someone cuts a blind man who just can’t make a run
And the queen who’s been standin’ behind the toilet door
‘Cos his parents don’t like boyfriends, call him a whore
UFO – On With The Action